Philadelphia, PA (Sports Network) -
It didn't take long for me to make my first fantasy gaffe of the season.
I thought Dallas Cowboys head coach Jason Garrett would make my decision for me but instead he decided to allow injured tight end Jason Witten to start Wednesday's season opener.
That left me with a choice to make. Should I go with Tony Gonzalez, a former star now on the decline or should I start Witten, still one of the game's best but also a potential liability because of his injured spleen?
In the end, I rolled the dice and went with Witten. I assumed the bright lights at Metlife Stadium and the motivation of going up against the team that ended his season a year ago would be enough to propel him to a huge game.
Instead, Witten caught only two passes for a measly 10-yards, resulting in just a single fantasy point.
I went with my gut ... but you don't have to. Week 1's slate will provide fantasy owners with plenty of tough decisions, especially when it comes to filling all of those tricky flex spots. I'm here to help you make an educated decision, like the one I should have made earlier this week.
Here are eight tough calls I've seen fantasy owners grapple with this week:
1. Demaryius Thomas, Denver Broncos vs. Nate Washington, Tennessee Titans: On paper, Washington looks like the easy choice. Washington had much better receiving stats than Thomas last season (74 receptions, 1,023 yards and seven TD compared to 32 catches, 551 yards and four scores for Thomas). Washington will also be facing the defensively-challenged New England Patriots in Week 1 while Thomas faces the tough-as-nails Pittsburgh Steelers.
But the game isn't always won on paper. Thomas has Peyton Manning under center, a far-superior signal caller to the one Washington will be playing with in Tennessee (second-year QB Jake Locker). The Steelers will be minus stud linebacker James Harrison (knee injury) and safety Ryan Clark (sickle cell trait) and if you recall, Thomas had the finest game of his career against Pittsburgh last season (204 yards, one TD). Thomas should have the better week.
2. Titus Young, Detroit Lions vs. Anquan Boldin, Baltimore Ravens: These are two players headed in opposite directions. Young is on the upswing while Boldin appears to be approaching the end of his career.
Here, it's all about the matchups. Young should have no trouble carving up the Rams' listless defense on Sunday, even if most of the red zone targets go to Calvin Johnson. Boldin, on the other hand, could be in for a tough night Monday versus the Cincinnati Bengals. The last time Boldin played the Bengals he was only able to reel in one catch for 35 yards. Young looks like the easy choice.
3. Kevin Smith, Detroit Lions vs. Pierre Thomas, New Orleans Saints: Neither of these players are particularly valuable in fantasy because the Lions and Saints operate in pass-first offenses. With Jahvid Best out, Smith is really the Lions' only option at halfback. The same can't be said of Thomas in New Orleans. Darren Sproles and Mark Ingram could both take carries away from Thomas in Week 1. That's enough for me to take Smith over the veteran Thomas.
4. Ronnie Brown, San Diego Chargers vs. Rashad Jennings, Jacksonville Jaguars: This will probably be the only time fantasy owners will have to struggle with this matchup. Brown is filling in for injured halfback Ryan Mathews with Jennings getting the nod over Maurice-Jones Drew, who ended his holdout less than a week ago.
Brown does have the stronger track record: he ran for 1,008 yards with Miami in 2006 (Jennings' career-best is 459 yards set in 2010). But he also has a perennial Pro Bowl quarterback in Philip Rivers. Jennings does not. He plays alongside Blaine Gabbert, regarded by most as the league's shakiest starting quarterback. The Chargers don't need Brown the way Jacksonville needs Jennings. That's why Jennings is the smarter play on Sunday.
5. DeAngelo Williams, Carolina Panthers vs. Stevan Ridley, New England Patriots: Williams used to be the most coveted back in fantasy but lately he's been done in by Carolina's switch to a two-back rotation with Jonathan Stewart. Ridley showed promise (5.1 yards per carry) as a rookie though his potential is limited by New England's endless supply of talent in the receiving corps.
However, only the Houston Texans and Philadelphia Eagles have registered more rushing touchdowns over the past two seasons than the Patriots, so Ridley should have plenty of chances to light up the scoreboard in 2012. Carolina had a league-best 26 rushing scores a year ago but more than half of those came from Cam Newton and now the Panthers are in possession of Mike Tolbert, who is likely to get most of the carries from inside the five-yard line. Go with Ridley in Week 1.
6. Donald Brown, Indianapolis Colts vs. Doug Martin, Tampa Bay Buccaneers: Martin has never played an NFL game so it's a little tough to predict exactly the type of impact he'll have in his first season. Brown averaged a solid 4.8 yards per carry in 2011, though he didn't receive many opportunities because the Colts were almost always playing from behind.
This one is really a coin flip but I'll go with Brown because of his experience and also because he doesn't have anyone to cut into his carries. It's possible Martin could share some of his workload in Week 1 with former 1,000-yard rusher LeGarrette Blount.
Logic doesn't always prevail in fantasy football but it never hurts to plan ahead. Hopefully this year's batch of fantasy stars stick to the blueprint and keep the chaos to a minimum. And hopefully my Witten mistake doesn't come back to haunt me.